Aramco joins Saudi companies boosting pay after royal orders


RIYADH: Saudi Arabian Oil Co and some of the kingdom’s biggest companies said they’ll pay Saudi staff more money, matching a royal order that extended handouts to government workers to ease public discontent over rising prices.

Aramco, preparing for what could be the world’s largest initial public offering, will pay “eligible employees” an extra 1,000 riyals (US$267) a month for one year beginning in January, it said in response to questions from Bloomberg.

The payments will be for workers inside the kingdom who make 20,000 riyals a month or less, according to two people familiar with the decision.

People who belong to the apprenticeship and college degree program will get an extra 10% of their monthly stipend over the same period, the company said.

The decision may not go down well with investors as Saudi Arabia seeks to sell as much as 5% of the company. The share sale is part of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s plan to set up the world’s biggest sovereign wealth fund and reduce the economy’s reliance on hydrocarbons.

Investors considering the IPO “will look at efficiency and cost control” to achieve the best possible returns, said Tariq Qaqish, managing director of the asset-management division at Mena Corp Financial Services LLC in Dubai.

If Aramco wants to attract long-term investors, its management should watch key performance indicators closely, he said.

Aramco joins some of the kingdom’s largest companies in the decision to temporarily boost wages after King Salman decided to pay Saudi civil servants an extra 1,000 riyals a month to ease the burden of austerity.

Saudi Basic Industries Co, Al Rajhi Bank and National Commercial Bank announced similar measures, according to Saudi-owned Al-Arabiya television. Samba Financial Group, Saudi Research and Marketing Group, Saudi Electricity Co and the local stock exchange are among other companies giving allowances to employees.

“There is a financial impact on the company for sure but this won’t be significant because Aramco’s profit margin is one of the highest in the industry due to the low cost base it has,” said Mazen al-Sudairi, head of research at Al Rajhi Capital Co.

“The Saudi government relies heavily on Aramco and oil income for the foreseeable future and maintaining the profitability of the company is still a priority for the government.”

The allowances follow complaints from Saudis on social media and television about rising prices after the government introduced a 5% value-added tax and a substantial increase to gasoline prices and electricity tariffs, all on Jan 1.

The measures were part of Prince Mohammed’s plan to raise non-oil revenue and repair public finances strained by low oil prices, but they stirred grumbling and frustration among citizens in a state built on an exchange of government largess for political loyalty.

In response, royal decrees issued early Saturday restored an annual pay raise for Saudi civil servants and ordered a 5,000-riyal bonus for soldiers fighting in the kingdom’s war in Yemen.

On his Twitter account, royal court adviser Saud Al Qahtani said the measures will cost the government more than 50 billion riyals and called for private sector companies to respond in turn.

The handouts show how the kingdom’s rulers are struggling to find a balance between the need to avoid unrest and take the difficult steps needed to reduce what policymakers and economists see as an unsustainable reliance on oil revenue.

Mohamed Abu Basha, an economist at Cairo-based investment bank EFG-Hermes, estimates that the measures could add as much as 0.5% point to non-oil gross domestic product growth. The payments will “nearly negate 2018’s planned fiscal consolidation” barring an unexpected increase in oil prices, he said.

“The move is definitely positive for 2018 GDP growth outlook but clearly at the expense of fiscal discipline,” he said.

“It also confirms worries that authorities will use any fiscal room created by rising oil prices to defer fiscal reforms.”